Monday, January 09, 2006

The Real Crocodile Hunter



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The real crocodile hunter is not an Australian egomaniac, and he hunts alligators (nuisance ones), not crocs. He is in his 70's, solid as a rock, and soft spoken. If you ask him about alligators, he will open up and tell amazing tales of a life lived in pursuit of gators. As he talks, his respect and admiration for his lifelong adversary becomes evident.

His name is Rufus. He is my dad's childhood friend. They are funny when they get together and the years melt away as they tell tales. One story that always pops up is the night my Dad and Rufus were walking train tracks at night with a few friends. All at once they were set upon by older boys who outnumbered them. Dad's group scattered, but my dad was handicapped by his polio leg and when Rufus realized that Dad was still in the midst of the dust up, he came back for him swinging. They both managed to survive the incident...lucky me.


About a year ago, Jr., his best buddy T., and Katie and I went out to visit Rufus. He lives out in the woods on a few acres. When we got there, he led us out to two trailers filled with gator heads in various states of the taxidermy process. The first trailer was dark, dank, and completely lined with gator heads, large and small, shelf after shelf. Rufus, who says he is retired with a wink and a smile, is a licensed Alligator Trapper. He is the guy the state wardens call when a gator is pronounced a nuisance. Nuisance gators are usually "produced" by humans feeding them, but sometimes it's simply a dangerously huge gator with no fear of humans.

Rufus explained how he would put out baited (cow lungs) hooks on jug floatlines...essentially fishing for the gator. When hooked, the gator is pulled to the boat, dispatched and then hauled aboard.Of course, it does not go as smoothly as that last sentence implies. Combine a small boat, dark of night, and a large angry gator and you have the makings of a Nantucket sleigh ride...Florida style. Slip out of the boat and you could find yourself wrapped in the rope with a spinning gator underwater in pitch blackness. It's dark, dangerous work. Back at his house, the gator is expertly skinned and butchered in a small, spotless packing shed. The hides and meat are then sold. If you're wondering...gator tastes a little like fishy chicken (to me). Not my favorite, but lots of folks like it.

After the yard tour, Rufus and his wife invited us inside to their comfortable living room. We sat spell-bound as he showed us his hand with the missing thumb and told us the story of the gator that took it off in a split second snap.

I couldn't help but ask, "What ever happened to that gator...did it get away?"

He motioned to a gator head on the fireplace hearth, "That's him right there."




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11 comments:

kevin said...

I'm sure you remember David Stratton, his dad Millie(I'm not sure what that is short for) was an "unlicensed" alligator trapper. He had plenty of alligator remnants around his house.

I caught a 6' gator once. It was interesting. We turned it loose when we found out the fine for molesting alligators was.

Floridacracker said...

Kevin,
I remember David, but I lost track of him.
You're right, you can get in big trouble even helping a gator...Smiley told me so.

Hey you are about to get older!!!
Hah, hah! I'll be a year younger than you soon.

Hick said...

That sweet looking guy is a gator hunter? Wowsers!

I met a guy in New Orleans, a long time ago, who was a gator hunter (he was also a Ragin' Cajun.) He had a whole bunch of interesting stories about hunting gators. I just thought he was crazy.

Thunder Dave said...

Cow's lungs huh? I always thought that toy poodles from Coral Gables were the best bait! ;-)

Hey man, I got some more pics onto the post from the other day and a couple of new posts out.

roger said...

well FC, you win this month's trophy for best character story.

Zanne said...

This is what the world is lacking right now - characters like the gator hunter. My grandmother called them eccentrics. Everybody seems so "vanilla" these days - nothing exciting or interesting in their lives. That's why I love people with wild stories to tell.

The fried gator they serve at Pappadeaux's is pretty good, not fishy tasting at all. Maybe they soak it in milk to cut the fish flavor.

Floridacracker said...

Hick,
He is a heck of a nice guy,but physically he's iron.

ThunderD,
Will do.

DPR,
Well, first I'd like to thank the academy,...

Zanne,
It is Vanilla city out there. I know just what you mean. Too much virtual living...

OldHorsetailSnake said...

I'm glad they have somebody to do this stuff. I'm especially glad it's not me.

Laura said...

boy, he sure does have some stories! Good thing he's made it to 70 with only a thumb missing!

Anonymous said...

that guy was pretty cool

Floridacracker said...

Old Hoss,
He's about your age and I would not want to have to wrestle him.

Laura,
He's the real thing. When he's gone, a chapter of Florida's culture will go. The good news is he seems as healthy as a horse.

Anon,
Cool headed too.